Tag: Denmark

Just back: Copenhagen cooking with Kids


Copenhagen really gets food this days.

What with Noma and all that foraging, not to mention all those Michelin stars.

But there’s a higher purpose beyond the hyperbole. A slew of initiatives from local chefs, NGOs and government agencies are helping Danes to educate their kids about food, tackling social issues in the process.

That’s why Olivia [above left], Maya [above right] and myself are just back from a long weekend in Copenhagen.

It wasn’t all hotdogs and fairground rides at Tivoli. We also rolled up our sleeves and joined a cookery class at Meyer’s Madhus, the cooking school founder Claus Meyer, a leading light in the New Nordic Kitchen movement.

The full article will appear in Family Traveller magazine in July to preview child-freindly events at the Copenhagen Cooking Festival in August.

But here’s a sneak preview:

Back in the kitchen, things were hotting up. With 30 minutes to complete the two-course meal, Maya was busily adding lemon juice to the simmering rhubarb while Olivia helped head chef Matte to thicken the sauce for the chicken.

Across the kitchen, 12-year-old Tobias, a veteran of Meyer Madhus’ cookery classes, was chastising his team of three teenage boys for burning the butter with a fiery flourish worthy of the young Marco Pierre White.

“Yes, I’d like to be a chef,” he tells me, taking a temper-cooling breather on the terrace outside. “I love to cook and I love to eat.”

But, just like a scene from the kitchen at Noma, the service comes together at the last moment and we all sit down to eat around a large, communal table and toast our success with glasses of organic juice.

Plus you can find a set of images from the trip at my Flickr page.

And watch a video of the cookery class for kids at Meyer’s Madhus in Copenhagen on Vimeo:

Liked this? Try also The Holy Grail of Hotdogs in Copenhagen.

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Visit Copenhagen

Meyers Madhus

Copenhagen Cooking 

Family Traveller

Story of the week: Green tourism initiatives in Scandinavia


By 07.45 the total is 544.

Since May 2009, some 1,470,783 have passed this way.

I’m standing in Copenhagen’s Town Hall Square, by the statue of Hans Christian Andersen and the Tivoli amusement park, watching the rush hour. Businessmen with iPod earphones gleaming against brooding Nordic skies, students in brightly coloured Wellies and parents taking kids to school in waterproof tag-alongs.

But they’re not driving. As the roadside electronic counter beside me confirms, peak period in Copenhagen is an increasingly two-wheeled affair.

Green debate

Copenhagen hosts the United Nations Climate Change Conference from Monday, welcoming Messers Brown and Obama amongst others to hammer out a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol.

The politicians seem unlikely to reach a consensus but the Oresund region, comprising Copenhagen and Sweden’s Malmo, the two cities at either side of the Oresund Bridge, plans to use the event to showcase how Scandinavia does green tourism better than anywhere else.

Copenhagen is already rated as one of the world’s greenest cities with parks, harbourside swimming pools and a recent explosion in organic eateries. It aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025, Tivoli [pictured above] plans to run on renewable wind energy by 2010 and, in September this year, it hosted Co2penhagen, the world’s first carbon dioxide neutral-festival.

Throughout the conference, Town Hall Square will be full of stands showcasing Oresund’s green projects. Hotels and restaurants are busily trumpeting their eco credentials and tour agencies arranging green-themed itineraries for delegates.

Even the National Gallery of Denmark is getting in on the act with the exhibition, RETHINK presenting a utopian vision of the future, whereby we all live in floating biospheres.

Swedish scene

But how to spot the green gems amongst the green wash?

I start my quest in Malmo with the kind of roof-lifting gale that strikes cold fear into the most stoic of Viking hearts. “There’s an old Swedish saying, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’,” says my guide, Jennifer Lenhart, a sustainability strategist, eyeing my ill-prepared attire with the withering look of a women who spends a lot of time outdoors – and in all weathers.

Jennifer leads me through the windswept Western Harbour, an eco-showcase district regenerated from derelict industrial warehouses. After we explore the rabbit warren of sustainable built apartments, cute harbour-side cafés and green-powered galleries, we duck into the flagship organic restaurant, Salt & Brygga.

Over a late lunch of Smaland sausages, creamed potatoes and beetroot salad in the country-kitchen restaurant, Jennifer, who will guide UN delegates during the conference, explains how the harbour is a showcase for Scandinavia’s can-do attitude towards green living.

“Oresund may be small on the world map, but it can stand up and show the world how to make green projects tangible.”

Cycling ambassador 

The next morning in Copenhagen, after a breakfast of low-food-mile eggs, fair-trade coffee and organic orange juice from the Scandic Hotel’s new Climate Menu, I have a date with an ambassador. A cycling ambassador, that is.

On a nondescript sidestreet behind Norreport station, the Cycling Embassy of Denmark is planning to take their specialist knowledge of cycling culture to the world. Outside the work-in-progress office, a blue signs boldly proclaims ‘Pedal power. Yes, please!’

Lise Bjørg Pedersen, Head of Political Affairs, greets me with coffee and a vision of the future, whereby 50 per cent of all commuters will travel to their place of work or study in Copenhagen on two wheels by 2015. She says:

“In Denmark cycling has no gender, race, age or social status. Even our Crown Prince Frederik travels by bicycle.”

Lise will be hosting a group bike ride around Copenhagen during the UN conference to show the world that cycling is part of the solution. “People travel bike in Denmark because it’s easier than the car, not just because it’s a green,” she adds.

Copenhagen already boasts a slew of themed bike tours for visitors, including City Safari and Bike with Mike. There’s also a new sightseeing bus tour, the CityCirkel, which runs entirely on electricity.

City tour

But the latest green tour features around another form of transport and is run by a gregarious ex-pat Irishman with a fleet of Segways, a sort of two-wheeled, electric scooter priced at €6500 (£5850) a pop.

Seamus Daly gives me a crash-course in handling the Segway in a quiet car park before we hit the streets. The tours appeal to eco freaks and the downright curios alike with Seamus’ insider view of the city providing the commentary. Most involve a coffee stop at a cosy café, or a drop of the hard stuff at one of his favourite bars.

We set out to sample the new Globe Ale, the carbon dioxide-neutral beer from the local Norrebro Bryghus microbrewery, cruising in the cycle lane at a steady 13mph.

“Green living is not a theory waiting to be proven,” says Seamus, as we sip our slightly fizzy, amber-coloured ale, the gentle glow of candles bouncing off the stark, steel microbrewery vats.

“In their slow and subtle Danish way, the locals have already integrated the green mentality into daily life.”

On the way back to Town Hall Square my Segway skills are much improved for a pint of strong Danish lager. Weaving in and out of the bicycle rush hour in the half gloom of a winter afternoon, I can feel Oresund’s pragmatic enthusiasm for all things green rubbing off on me.

The politicians may not reach a consensus about a greener lifestyle this week, but the people of Oresund are already living it.

* This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2009. Liked this? Try also: West Sweden: Folklore traditions of midsummer.

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Story of the week: Santa Congress in Copenhagen


* So, 37 days to Christmas then. I’ve delved back in the archive on a Christmas theme for an early freelance story from Copenhagen. Follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to the RSS, for more update.

* Photo via AP.

Paradise Yamamoto is running late.

He’s got jetlag having just come off a plane from Japan, a rip in the pants of his Santa suit and one of his bongos is missing.

But there’s no time to worry now. It’s 9am on a sunny July morning in Copenhagen and the official opening ceremony of the 39th annual World Santa Claus Congress is about to get underway.

Back home in Tokyo, Paradise-san lives a double life.

Not only is he an accomplished bongo player with his own Latin club nights and CD back catalogue, but he has quickly risen through the ranks to become Japan’s leading – indeed only – mambo Santa.

Today he will be flying the flag for Japanese Santa power while bashing out a Latin rhythm with the assistance of his trusty helper, Rudolph-san, dressed specially for the occasion in a fetching crotch-hugging jump suit and tinsel ears.

“OK,” he beams, securing his stick-on beard, “let’s mambo. Ho ho ho.”

Summer summit

While in Britain we bemoan the arrival of Christmas lights and grottos hot on the heels of Bonfire Night, the spirit of Christmas comes especially early each year to Bakken, an Art Deco amusement park north of downtown Copenhagen – exactly six months before Santa’s big day to be precise.

This uniquely festive gathering made its debut in 1963 as a slightly incongruous one-off event in Bakken with Santas from across Denmark coming together to play games, swap ideas and kick off the countdown to Christmas against a backdrop of green fields and sunny skies.

It proved such a success that organisers made it an annual event. Today the Santa Claus Congress is a truly global event.

Over 120 bone fide genuine Santas from countries as diverse as Greenland, Venezuela and the Congo (this year, Great Britain was conspicuous by its absence) come together for a three-day festive get-together that is part corporate bonding session, part harmless – albeit slightly surreal – fun.

“The Santas are too busy to met up and talk shop in the run-up to Christmas itself.”

“This event allows them to raise the burning issues and resolve conflicts before the Christmas rush,” dead-pans Tina Baungaard, one of the event’s organisers.

As I watch the assorted Santas, Mother Christmases and token elves registering for their name badges, I learn from Tina that Santa Congress has a serious agenda like any other trade fair or conference.

Amongst the topics for discussion at this year’s talking shop are EU moves to standardise Santa footwear sizes, concerns that hard-working reindeer are increasingly hard to come by and fears that false beards are spoiling the good name of Father Christmas.

The year’s burning issue, however, is a motion tabled by the Spanish contingent to have Christmas Eve moved to January 6.

The Scandinavian Santas, who celebrate December 24 as the main day of Christmas with presents at midnight and a large family meal, are said to be incandescent with rage at the prospect. At least, the ones whose faces I can see under a mountain of greying facial hair appear to be.

The formalities and introductions dispensed with, the Santas are gathered together on a makeshift stage overlooking the park’s fast food stands to break the ice with some Santa tai chi exercises.

I find myself standing next to a man flipping hot dogs in a burger van who looks as if the sight of around 100 middle-aged men in red fluffy suits and fake beards exposing copious amounts of bum cleavage is an everyday occurrence in the Danish countryside.

For me, however, such a wanton display middle-aged spread puts me right off breakfast and leaves me pondering ‘who ate all the mince pies.’

Serious talk

After a spot of dancing round the Christmas tree, we form an orderly procession and, led by a troupe of what can only be described as Santa bunny girls whose costumes set some of the old codgers hearts perilously racing, we head down to Bellevue Beach for another annual congress tradition: Santa paddling.

En route, I get talking to Toshi Kawanuma from Japan who describes himself as Inamoto Santa in homage to the Japan World Cup star and is making his debut at this year’s event.

According to Toshi, behind the smiles and talk of goodwill to all men, professional rivalries and jealousies run rife in the backstage area with Santas jostling for the position of Santa of Honour. It is, prsumably, like being backstage at a Milan catwalk show – except with fewer eating disorders and bigger knickers.

“I feel I have to prove myself as I’m new here,” says Toshi, rubbing his stubbly upper lip.

“That’s why I bleached my moustache white – to show them I’m serious about being a proper Santa.”

“It really hurt,” he adds despondently.

Back among the inner circle of anointed Santas, however, the mood is ebullient.

Indeed, by the end of the first day, the good people of Copenhagen have been subjected to semi-naked Santas bathing, a procession of Santas running riot along Stroget (the main pedestrian shopping street) and a pre-Xmas open air concert in Town Hall Square complete with carol singing and generous helpings of ho-ho-hos.

For even a Christmas cynic like myself, the infectious atmosphere has me fighting an overwhelming urge to rush out and deck the halls with bales of holly.

Christmas cheer

But before I leave the Santas to their serious discussions to be conducted behind closed doors, we all have one last appointment – a Christmas dinner in the town hall hosted by Bente Frost, deputy leader of Copenhagen City Council.

As the Santas hang up their suits and make a beeline for the turkey drumsticks, I go to take a picture of one Santa in civvies talking on his mobile phone.

“No pictures,” he snaps at me, “we’re off duty now.”

And a very merry Christmas to you too.

* This story first appeared in The Big Issue in 2002. Liked this? Try The Holy Grail of Hotdogs in Copenhagen.

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Story of the week: Staying at Denmark’s LEGOLAND Hotel


This is the latest post in a weekly series, highlighting stories from my travel-writing archive. Subscribe to the RSS feed for more.

Want to read more like this? Try The Holy Grail of Hotdogs in Copenhagen.

It was the summer of 1968 and young people around the world were clambering for a social revolution. Meanwhile, in Billund, a remote corner of western Denmark, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen was starting his own social revolution – one involving brightly coloured plastic bricks.

For on June 7, 1968, Godtfred opened the doors of LEGOLAND for the first time.

LEGO is one of the world’s favourite toys with seven LEGO boxes now sold every second.

With LEGOLAND Billund celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and the LEGO toy celebrating its 50th birthday, the park is planning a series of events over summer to mark these milestones.

There are three other LEGOLAND theme parks around the world, namely Windsor, UK, Günzburg, Germany and San Diego, California, while an option for a fifth park in the United States is currently under discussion.

LEGO origins

LEGO was founded in Denmark in 1932 when Ole Kirk Christiansen, a local carpenter, started making wooden toys. He named them LEGO, a contraction of the Danish ‘leg godt’, meaning ‘play well’.

He was unaware at the time that, coincidentally, the Latin meaning of the word is ‘I put together’.

Ole and his son Godtfred started manufacturing plastic bricks after the end of World War II. The first plastic bricks hit the market in 1949 and were named LEGO: Automatic Binding Bricks.

The company underwent exponential growth during the Fifties and Sixties with Godtfred’s children becoming international stars as they were featured playing with LEGO on the front cover of all the boxes. Godtfred had developed the brick design and wisely took out patents on four-tube brick.

He opened the Billund park to showcase his work.

Today LEGO is owned by Kjeld Kirk Christiansen, founder Ole’s grandson. LEGO has three manufacturing plants in Denmark, the Czech Republic and Mexico, and is on sale in over 130 different countries.

The 2,400 different LEGO brick shapes are produced under strict controls, whereby any brick not within a thousandth of a millimetre to the correct size is rejected, ensuring that all bricks can be firmly connected.

For an exclusive preview of the anniversary celebrations, I travel to the nondescript, small town of Billund, which is dominated by the sprawling grey-brick LEGO complex, to learn the secrets behind LEGO’s enduring popularity.

My base for the weekend is the LEGOLAND hotel, a comfortable but not luxurious place to stay with private access to LEGOLAND and family-friendly facilities.

The hotel caters for two distinct groups: families visiting the park and businessmen attending one of LEGO’s Business & Bricks team-building events.

With a captive audience, prices are accordingly high, but the hotel is a LEGO fan’s dream with striking LEGO models throughout – from a LEGO pianist in the bar to a giant LEGO Darth Vader standing guard over reception.

Hotel design

The standard rooms are functional but LEGO devotees will no doubt splash out on the 12 rooms themed around knights, princesses and pirates, which feature LEGO models, en-suite bathrooms and bunk beds for children.

At dinner that night, I chat with some of the other families staying at the hotel. Eight-year-old Kento had come all the way from Yokohama, Japan, to soak up the LEGO experience.

“We’re staying just two nights but it’s worth the journey as Kento loves his LEGO. He plays with it every day,” explains mother, Hiroko.

Closer to home, the Sturrock family, who hail from the East Midlands, are taking a long-weekend break with their two children James and Charles.

“I first came here when I was a little girl and I wanted to bring my boys back here to experience it for themselves,” says mother, Alison.

She adds: “I think they are the perfect age to enjoy the park as they’re now aged seven and nine.”

After a night in a pirate room with a LEGO parrot watching over my bed, I head out the next morning to explore the park.

Around the park

At 140,000m sq and featuring 58m bricks it’s a huge complex, divided into sections for different age groups, including Duplo Land for toddlers, LEGOREDO Town with its Wild West theme for pre teens and Adventure Land with its adventure playground for older kids. There are theme park rides, such as a log flume and racing cars, although most are suitable only for kids aged seven and up.

My favourite section is Miniland, featuring model village-style LEGO takes on famous sights from around the world.

Here a rural scene from Japan, replete with Mount Fuji in the background, has been build entirely from LEGO bricks. It sits, rather incongruously, between scale LEGO models of Bergen and Copenhagen’s Nyhaven district.

The towering model of Mount Rushmore, featuring the iconic image of four American presidents carved into the South Dakota hillside, is the park’s piece de resistance – it is constructed from over 1.5m LEGO bricks and has survived since 1974.

As the company expands, LEGO changes around 30 per cent of its product range each year and all LEGO employees must sign a confidentiality agreement when they join the company to keep secret the products under development in the labs.

“LEGO is all about playful learning. It is such a creative material. It appeals to all ages from Duplo for toddlers to Technic for teenagers,” explains Kurt Bolding Kristensen, Manager of Miniland Projects at LEGOLAND, as we grab a coffee in the hotel bar later that day.

“You can build with LEGO for hours. The only limit is your imagination.”

Behind the scenes

I end my visit with an exclusive, behind-the-scenes peak inside the LEGO Ideas House, a nondescript section of the present-day complex, built on the original house where Ole First invented LEGO.

Closed to the general public, this time-capsule exhibition is normally only open to LEGO employees. It houses early models, such as wooden monkeys on bikes, early packaging and black-and-white adverts from the 1950s.

I finish my tour following the development of LEGO through the ages and come face to face with a LEGO TECHNIC tractor set I remember my parents buying for me as a Christmas present when I was ten years old.

“Everyone played with LEGO as kids and, when they come to the exhibition and see their old toys, you see it in their eyes,” says Ideas House creator and LEGO historian Kirsten Stadelhofer.

“We may grow up but LEGO is something that we always carry with us in our hearts.”

This story was first published in BMI Voyager magazine in 2008.

Have you got a LEGO story, or a favourite place in Denmark?

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